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THE PANDA

The panda bear was once lived throughout much of southern and eastern China and in neighbouring Myanmar and north Vietnam. Today only around 1,000 left alive. All of these are found in one geographic region - the bamboo forests of southwestern China.



The panda has the digestive system of a carnivore. It has evolved mentally and adapted to a vegetarian diet feeding almost exclusively on the stems and leaves of bamboo. Hidden in the dense foliage of the forest, the panda eats for up to 14 hours a day, consuming 12 to 14kgs of bamboo. (Or over 25-30 pounds.)













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Destruction of the panda's natural habitat is the major threat to the survival of the species. In the eleven years from 1973 to 1984, suitable habitat for the animal shrunk by 50 per cent in six isolated areas.

The problem of bamboo flowering is a key one. It take about 10 to 100 years depending on the species, before bamboo plants flower over large areas and die. Although they regenerate from seed within a year. Because of this it can take up to 20 years before bamboo can support a panda population again. This of course is after the bamboo has died.

When the bamboo in one area flowers, pandas have to move to other areas where this has not happened. Historically, this was easy, but as the human population expanded, more forests have been cleared for agricultural purposes, or for the collection of fuelwood and timber. At the same time, more human settlements and roads have been built.

Because of this, panda migration is very difficult, leaving pandas restricted to islands of forest. Some pandas are still hunted for their skins. A single pelt can fetch up to US$200,000 in Japan Poachers risk the consequences - the death penalty. More frequently, however, pandas are caught in snares set for other animals.

Conservation efforts Panda conservation began in China during the 1940s. In 1963, the Chinese Government created Wolong as a forest reserve, now better known as a panda reserve because of the number of pandas living there. By 1992, there were 13 panda reserves, covering a total area of 6,049km2.

The WWF, or world wildlife fund's support for panda conservation in China started in 1980. At first, WWF's work with the Chinese Ministry of Forestry focused on finding out more about the panda and its habits, because little was known about it in the wild. It also contributed to the construction costs of a research and captive breeding centre at the Wolong Nature Reserve. Called the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, it opened in 1983 and is run by local scientists.

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